From the beginning of the Federation, the Prime Directive was clear: no Starfleet expedition may interfere with the natural development of other civilizations. But now Picard is confronted with orders that undermine that decree. If he obeys, 600 peaceful residents of Ba’ku will be forcibly removed from their remarkable world. All for the reportedly greater good of millions who will benefit from Ba’ku’s Fountain of Youth-like powers. If he disobeys, he will risk his Starship, his career, his life. But for Picard, there’s really only one choice. He must rebel against Starfleet…and lead the insurrection to preserve Paradise.
eyelights: its basic premise.
eyesores: its tonal inconsistencies. its CGI.
“How many people does it take, Admiral, before it becomes wrong?”
‘Insurrection’ is the ninth motion picture in the continuing voyages of the Star Trek franchise, and the third to star the crew of ‘The Next Generation’. It finds the Enterprise uncovering a conspiracy to transplant the Ba’ku from their home planet for the benefit of the Federation. This puts Captain Picard and his crew in opposition with Starfleet and its allies, the Son’a.
On paper, the idea for ‘Insurrection’ seems sound enough: though the Federation is supposed to be guided by the Prime Directive, it’s never established how deeply rooted the rot is; it could just be some bad apples. But ‘First Contact‘ had set the bar pretty high; it’s clear that, after one of the ‘Star Trek’ series’ most successful outings, its follow-up would likely pale in comparison.
Sadly, though the picture was once again helmed by Jonathan Frakes, and though it had something important to say, it lacks a certain je ne sais quoi; it doesn’t quite hit its marks and none of its many parts really come together cohesively. I still remember seeing it on my birthday that year and walking out thinking I had been entertained but not really thrilled; it’s forgettable.
Frankly, I still feel that way now.
It starts off on a weak note, with a rampaging Starfleet android disturbing the activities of a group of agrarian villagers. Though it is invisible, due to some sort of clothing, we can see and hear where it passes, turning the scene into a sort slapsticky moment – especially when invisible Starfleet officers try and fail to stop him, pratfalling in water and stumbling.
It’s all very abrupt, barely taking the time to set the stage; if anything, it felt like we’d come back from a commercial break to find our program already in progress – which is really strange. And then the android is revealed, as it decides to tear its invisibility cloak (or whatever) off: it’s Data! No big surprise there, but why was he referred to as “the android” until then?
Um… to surprise us, probably.
Then “the android” shoots Starfleet’s hidden monitoring station, destroying its cloak and revealing it to the Ba’ku. Holy crap! What about the Prime Directive? What is up with Data? Well, we’re not about to get answers: instead, Data goes on a bizarre rampage, taking a vessel to attack the Starfleet and Son’a ship. It’s completely out of character, but we have no idea what is going on.
Naturally, only Captain Picard and the Enterprise can save the day.
Though they are currently in the middle of a diplomatic encounter with a new race (leading to one of the series’ most awkward moments, showing Picard adorned with a beaded headdress that looks utterly ridiculous), they are called in to come take care of their ‘droid. And so we get a small chase between Data and Picard and Worf, who stop him by having him sing Gilbert and Sullivan.
Sigh… don’t ask.
It’s all just so very awkward and goofy that it’s hard to take seriously. And every time that I watch this movie, I wonder what the heck they were thinking. I sit there waiting for the “Star Trek” movie to begin, instead of this pseudo-‘Galaxy Quest’. Now, I have no issue with humour: ‘The Voyage Home‘ is a perfect example of how to do it right. But it’s tonally wrong here.
Here you have corny comedy on one hand, sometimes at the expense of characters who deserve better (Worf certainly could have been used in a more substantial way), and then in the next moment you have contrived action sequences that are totally uninspired: insert spaceship chase here, insert phaser duel here, and insert larger scale -but completely innocuous- conflict here.
Cut, print, and that’s a wrap!
You might as well turn ‘Star Trek’ into a buddy-cop movie.
The rest of the picture is much better, thankfully. But, by then, all goodwill is on standby as one waits for the next shoe to drop. When’s the dance number coming? Who’s going to make a fart joke? It never stoops that low, but no amount of ethical, philosophical and political discourse can make the movie float on its own by that point – the picture is too distracted to be deep.
The core of the dilemma revolves around the right that Starfleet has to relocate a whole population secretly, without anyone, including the villagers, being aware of it – all for the sake of the “greater good”. You see, the planet the Ba’ku live on has rejuvenating properties that has kept them alive since their arrival there three centuries ago. It’s very tempting indeed.
But can they, and should they, move the Ba’ku?
It’s an interesting question, in light of our own society’s past history with the indigenous tribes of North America; we have ruthlessly taken land and relocated people for the “greater good”. In fact, this remains a common practice all over the world, not just here. But what are the moral implications of such decisions? And can the minority be ignored when there is a definite need?
The picture goes beyond that, making the Son’a obsessed with youth and beauty, using surgery to try to retain their appearance and health. This is not an uncommon concern in our own youth-obsessed society and it was interesting to have the chief villains’ be motivated by such concerns – though they were modeled far too closely after characters in ‘Brazil’ and ‘Dune’ for my taste.
The best science fiction discusses issues. And ‘Insurrection’ does that.
The problem is that it can’t overcome a flawed premise: How in the world would the Ba’ku not find out that they’ve been duped? The hologram ship they were to be carried in had a limited capacity so they would surely realize they weren’t home – especially when they decide to leave the “village”. Why not just put them in stasis until they can be delivered safely to their new home?
Obviously, this was designed so that Enterprise crew would have something to discover, which in turn allows them to get involved. But why was Data involved? If Starfleet had wanted to keep their conspiracy under wraps, it seems to me that, he not only would have been sent packing, he wouldn’t have been deployed to the area in the first place. Seriously, why was he anyway?
Doesn’t Starfleet have other technology they can use? I’m sure they do. Wouldn’t it save them having to destroy Data?
But, again, it’s all contrived to involve the Enterprise and its crew.
Add to this Worf’s zits, Ryker and Deanna getting frisky and Data befriending a child and deciding to learn about playing, and it all just feels poorly-conceived, like the script had too many cooks and not enough time to let it simmer. Even the production feels rushed, with crap CGI taking the place of the stellar model work that the series had been using until now; it all looks cheap.
And don’t get me started on the kid’s CGI pet or the flying probes that look as credible as the birds in ‘The Birds‘!
Still, the picture has its moments, most of which revolve around Captain Picard and Anij, a Ba’ku woman that he befriends and nearly (but not quite!) romances: it’s together that most of the questions of mortality and morality are discussed – the meatiest bits of the picture. That rested squarely on Patrick Stewart’s shoulders, who can deliver such material convincingly.
Thank goodness for that!
Ultimately, ‘Star Trek: Insurrection’ may not be a memorable entry in the ‘Star Trek’ franchise, feeling more like an extended television episode than a proper motion picture outing, but it’s entertaining enough to warrant a gander. Unfortunately, that’s not praise enough to have made it as great a success as its predecessor: though it made money, it was the beginning of the end.
The franchise was now on its last legs.
Date of viewing: August 30, 2016